Electronic Design

Dev Kits Round 3: TI’s DLP Pico Kit And The Beagle Board

Texas Instruments (TI) makes so many products it is hard to keep track of them all. One that stands out, though, is the Digital Light Processing (DLP) system utilized in projection systems and large screen displays. It is also showing up in specialized applications. For those, developers can turn to the $349 DLP Pico Projector Development Kit.

The DLP kit works with TI’s $149 Beagle Board (Fig. 1). The Beagle Board has an OMAP3530 microcontroller based on Arm’s Cortex-A8 core. It has USB 2.0 OTG (On-the-Go) support as well an HDMI display output that can drive the DLP kit.

Today we take a look at both the Beagle Board and the DLP kit. The Beagle Board is available separately and it has its own website with a host of applications that are independent of the DLP kit.

Barking Beagle Board
The Beagle Board (Fig. 2) is based on the OMAP3530 with a 600-MHz superscalar ARM Cortex-A8 that has 256 Kbytes of L2 cache and a C64+ DSP core. The Cortex-A8 architecture executes a pair of instructions per clock cycle to deliver 1200 MIPS of performance. It has 128 Mbytes of SDRAM and 256 Mbytes of NAND flash. The memory is provide via a package-on-package (POP) chip.

Drivers for OpenGL ES 2.0 are included for the 2D/3D graphics accelerator support. The hardware can render 10M polygons/s. It drives a TFP410 panel bus chip that supports an HDMI/DVI-D display. The OMAP3530 drives an S-Video display directly. The USB 2.0 High Speed OTG (on-the-go) connection is via a TWL4030 chip. USB can provide power or an external 5-V power supply can be used. The unit can easily be battery powered as the OMAP3530 is designed for mobile devices.

There is a SD/MMC+ socket for expansion flash, a JTAG header, a serial port header, and stereo input and output sockets. A header can be added to gain access to serial-peripheral interface (SPI), I2C, I2S and SD/MMC. The OMAP3530 and the Beagle Board provide plenty of multimedia support and basic communication support. Ethernet, Wi-Fi or other communication support can be added via the SPI or I2C ports or a USB device could be used as well.

On the face of it, the Beagle Board looks like a slick system with a high performance processor capable of driving hi-def displays. The challenge is taking advantage of the hardware. Unfortunately, the boot loader provides only basic diagnostics via the serial port. Information on getting started with the Beagle Board is on the Internet but not necessarily all in one spot. I cheated because TI sent along a flash card with demos. There is a JTAG interface but most developers are likely to look at the board as a software platform in which case installing one of the many supported Linux distributions on an SD card makes more sense.

The best getting started section I found was at elinux.org/BeagleBoardBeginners. It explains the use of the serial port interface. It also explains the setup for an external SD card, using Angstrom Linux of course.

There is a Beagle Board Web site with a number of projects. Some are extensive like the Arm Linux Internet Platform while others are just starting up.

Experienced embedded developers will be able to get up and running quickly but new users will find the platform a challenge initially. It is not the most efficient development environment without a network hook but the serial port interface is on par with most development kits of this type. The removable flash drive definitely helps.

Overall, get started with the Beagle Board is worth the effort. It is a powerful platform that is relatively low cost and provides access to all the major peripherals in the system. It does not bring out all the pins of the OMAP3530 but that can be expected from this type of system.

DLP Pico Optics
Young Optics’ DLP Pico module (Fig. 3) is available from a number of sources including Digi-Key. It is a compact (65 by 45 by 14 mm), self contained unit that requires an external power supply (provided) and a DVI-D source such as the Beagle Board. It uses LEDs and a DLP chip to project a 320 by 480 image with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The image can be relatively small in a well lit room but it can be easily fill up a wall (66-in. diagonal) if the lights are dimmed. The LEDs draw only 2 W, so light output at a distance is limited, but the module is likely to find a home where distance and intensity are less of an issue. Typical brightness is 7lm.

The module comes with an external power supply but the unit draws little power so a battery powered option is possible making it an interesting combination when paired with the Beagle Board. The DLP Pico module was tested with the Beagle Board and some Linux applications courtesy of TI. Images were sharp and the response via the Beagle Board was the same when using the DLP Pico module or an LCD screen.

The module has an I2C interface that is integrated with HDMI. It is used to control the module and it connects to the internal TI MSP 430 16-bit microcontroller. This handles the system control but the actual dataflow is handled by an FPGA that is connected to the HDMI interface.

The module opens up many interesting possibilities from projecting a pattern on an object to using it to generate a scan.

Beagle Board
www.beagleboard.org

DigiKey
www.digikey.com

Texas Instruments
www.ti.com

Young Optics
www.youngoptics.com

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